By Kazi Amdadul Hoque, founding member of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG), co-leader of ESRAG’s South Asia Regional Chapter and Karen D. Kendrick-Hands, Director of Projects for ESRAG
The Rotary Foundation Trustees and Rotary International Board of Directors have both unanimously approved adding a new area of focus: Supporting the Environment. Rotary members have long had an interest in the environment. Paul Harris not only founded Rotary, but in 1908 he was a founding member of The Prairie Club in Chicago, which promotes recreation in nature and supports conservation activities.
Each of us can do something to support the environment. In the past, when a child was born in Bangladesh, the elders planted a tree in the baby’s name so that the tree would grow with and help the baby, eventually providing fruit and shade. The plant was nurtured and cared for, as was the newborn. The elders said, “A child and a plant can be no one’s enemy. The two go hand-in-hand, in innocence and life.”
Times, however, have changed. The care that was once reciprocal has become increasingly one-sided. The tree that once bore natural fruit is often fertilized with inorganic chemicals and sprayed with insecticides which may harm insects and other pollinators. Trees, which once gave cool relief, are being cut down to provide timber for paper and buildings and to create space for factories, deluxe housing and tourist developments. Rivers that once had fish are often polluted with chemicals from factories and runoff from farms and carry waste and litter from cities , damaging aquatic flora and fauna.
While these are direct attacks on nature, there is another. Human technology indirectly impacts nature. Our carbon footprints are larger because of conveniences such as air conditioners, refrigerators, cars and washing machines. Plastic and chemicals, ultimately make their way to the stomachs of sea creatures, killing many each year. Microplastics and nano plastics which are hiding in everyday products, like some face washes and toothpastes may work their way through food chains to end up in the food we eat.
It is easy to dismiss or ignore the warning signs of the immense damage of human activities to nature: cyclones, floods, droughts, bushfires and other disasters When the world went into lockdown and all of humankind had to take a step back, it allowed nature to bloom again. Pausing human activity has allowed dolphins to return to our beaches, birdsong to be heard again, pollution levels to drop and carbon dioxide emissions to slow. The Sagorlota, the Beach Morning Glory, a key component of the beach ecology at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, exemplifies the survival spirit of nature when humans aren’t there to trample it. The plant had mostly disappeared due to the tourist and construction activity along the beach. However, the innocent green plant has made a return during these last few months.
We should be reminded by every tissue, every brick, of the environmental cost embedded in producing the goods we use: trees cut for tissues and polluting smoke emitted from the brick kiln. We—not our community and not our government, but we– as individuals—can prefer environmentally friendly and nature-based solutions: repurposing soil from river dredging, promoting locally available indigenous materials like bamboo, straw, grass, golpata or palm fronds, and other biodegradable building materials, and choosing reusable jute over polythene bags. Finally, we can contribute to advancing the development and use of green technologies to reduce greenhouse gases, preserve natural resources and tackle energy poverty.
In the end, it is all about perspective. Our perspective has shifted from loving and nurturing nature to exploiting it. We must shift our perspective back. By expressing gratitude for the bounties of nature, ecological balance and biodiversity, we can make this world a better place. If we educate our children about the environment, not just with books but with practice, they will light a beacon of hope for the generations to come and care for the environment.